August 17, 2006


Highway Safety Agency Unveils New Campaign Against Drunken Driving (MATTHEW L. WALD, 8/17/06, NY Times)

In a major shift in highway safety strategy, the federal government is turning its focus from seat belts to alcohol. [...]

About 20 percent of highway fatalities last year involved accidents in which one driver had a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or higher; the number of deaths was 12,945, down from 13,099 the previous year. The numbers are higher if drivers with slightly lower amounts of alcohol in their bloodstreams are included. They may be impaired even if they are not legally drunk. (Driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 is illegal in every state.)

Federal statistics show that progress against drunken driving has slowed. The percentage of all motor vehicle fatalities where one driver had a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or more fell sharply from 1985 to 1995, to 36 percent from 46 percent. But in the next decade, it hardly moved and last year was about 34 percent.

It also slowed by another measure. From 1985 to 1995, the number of people killed in crashes where one driver had a blood alcohol of at least 0.08 fell almost 25 percent, to 15,242 from 20,086. But from 1995 to last year, the number fell about 15 percent.

In contrast, seat belt use has risen sharply in the past two decades and is now more than 80 percent for front-seat passengers. Ms. Nason’s agency is still pushing for higher seat belt use, because it reduces fatalities in drunken driving accidents, rollovers and other kinds of crashes. But the emphasis will shift. For example, random patrols and roadblocks may now be conducted later in the evening, when unbelted drivers are harder to spot but drunken drivers may be easier to pick out.

The television advertisements are directed toward men 21 to 34, who have the highest rate of fatal crashes while intoxicated.

As with belts, it'll be more effective to just require that new cars have passive systems installed that test the driver.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 17, 2006 1:27 PM

Also, people's toilets should automatically test urine for drug use and alert the authorities if the test is positive. Because in your very French worldview, we're all guilty until proven innocent, right?

Posted by: Bryan at August 17, 2006 1:37 PM

No, like buggery and bestiality it's less objectionable in the privacy of your home. But when you try to introduce it into public you must be stopped.

Posted by: oj at August 17, 2006 2:02 PM

More important, the government must assume that all citizens are guilty of something. Right?

Posted by: Bryan at August 17, 2006 2:28 PM

Our government is founded on the insight that we're all guilty. The point of passive systems is that you aren't guilty in that instance you're unaffected.

Posted by: oj at August 17, 2006 2:32 PM

Not only are your ideas French, they're more nihlistic than a 70's era English punk. And you say you're not an multi-culti intellectual!

Back to the topic at hand, does anyone here know if there any cars on the market today that use passive seatbelt restraints? The last car I owned with automatic seatbelts was an '87 Ford Escort. The system turned out to be so universally loathed by consumers (not unlike the 1970's system of not allowing the engine to start unless the driver's seatbelt was engaged) that auto makers couldn't get rid of them fast enough.

Posted by: Bryan at August 17, 2006 2:43 PM

Bryan: I much prefer the automatic seatbelt to the airbag, which (1) costs more, (2) does less to protect the occupant, and (3) once deployed, results in the vehicle being written off.

Posted by: Mike Morley at August 17, 2006 2:48 PM

True. Thank goodness for the airbags.

Posted by: oj at August 17, 2006 2:49 PM


No, the French believe nbo one is guilty and that we are perfectable. That's why their model failed.

Posted by: oj at August 17, 2006 2:56 PM

Anyone remember the talking car. The computer in "2001" used the same smarmy voice. My parents had one of them. It had no end of admonitions. Didn't last long either.

Then there was the automatic seat belt that came dangerously close to decapitating those of us who are vertically challenged, i.e., petite and adorable.

Yes, I like my cars to keep their opinions to themselves.

Posted by: erp at August 17, 2006 4:48 PM

A door is ajar

Posted by: Talking Car at August 17, 2006 4:51 PM

TC - is that an editorial comment?

Posted by: erp at August 17, 2006 6:13 PM


That's one of the phrases the talking cars used. Bad memories.

Posted by: Rick T. at August 17, 2006 6:36 PM

"your very French worldview"

That's insulting to the French. At least they're willing to entertain an opposing viewpoint might be the right one before they drop the blade. On subjects like this, his worldview is more like the Queen of Hearts— "Sentence first, verdict afterward."

The computer in "2001" used the same smarmy voice.

Hey, Hal 9000 had a great voice. Flat, inflexionless, atonal but smooth, it sounded mechanical. Much beter "computer voice" than that DecTalk box that Hawking has usurped as his own.

much prefer the automatic seatbelt to the airbag

I prefer neither. What exactly is the problem with assuming the responsibility of a manual belt system? (A habit so hard to break that I find myself buckling in just to drive across a parking lot, much to a coworker's amusement...)

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at August 17, 2006 10:43 PM

An interlock that disables cell phones when the motor is started would be a good idea, too along with a federal law banning GPS direction-finding systems. They compete with the road for the driver's attention. In due course, car radios will be banished as well.

Posted by: Ed Bush at August 17, 2006 10:51 PM

Rick, I'm just kidding. I also remember it well.

Posted by: erp at August 18, 2006 8:20 AM

That we're responsible for each other.

Posted by: oj at August 18, 2006 8:43 AM